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Zero Hedge

A Virgin, A Pastor and Two Soldiers

Authored by Raul Ilargi Meijer via The Automatic Earth blog,

On August 15, Greeks celebrate the “Dormition (or the Assumption) of the Virgin Mary (in Greek: Koimisis tis Theotokou). The holiday commemorates the “falling asleep” or death of the Theotokos (Mary, translated as “God-bearer”). August 15, one of the most important holidays in the Orthodox calendar, is celebrated across the country, and is a date when many Greeks leave the towns and cities where they live and work to return to their home villages."

Stole that bit from the local Kathimerini paper. And I would add: while most Athenians leave for the islands, so do about 2 billion tourists. Thought I’d bring up the national holiday because in Turkey, they celebrate the same. The orthodox church is still going strong in both countries. Even if Turkey is leaning increasingly towards Islam. And even then: the House of the Virgin Mary shrine in Turkey, which the Apostle John is supposed to have built for her, on a mountain overlooking the Aegean, the place where Mary is said to have spent her last years, sees both Christian and Muslim pilgrims.

All this can’t be seen apart from some recent developments between the two countries. Turkey had been holding two Greek servicemen in jail after they crossed a border in bad weather early March. And then yesterday evening, this happened according to Kathimerini:

Greek Soldiers Released From Turkish Jail Pending Trial

Two Greek servicemen who had been detained in Turkey since early March for accidentally crossing the border in bad weather have been released from jail pending trial, Anadolu agency reported on Tuesday evening. According to Anadolu, a court examined the request for their release and ruled there are no reasons to keep them behind bars. The ruling does not mention any measures restricting their movement which means the soldiers can return to Greece.

Lieutenant Angelos Mitretodis and Sergeant Dimitris Kouklatzis had been held in a high security prison in Edirne for 167 days. It is not clear what charges they are facing. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said in a tweet the release of the servicemen “is an act of justice which will contribute in boosting friendship, good neighborly relations and stability in the region.” “I would like to congratulate and thank our two officers and their families for their courage, patience and confidence in our efforts, which were ultimately vindicated,” he added.

On Monday, Greece’s top military announced it was suspending some confidence-building activities with Turkey for the remainder of the year, as a response to the prolonged detention. The measures under suspension extend to the the exchange of military academy graduates as well as sporting and cultural activities, which have already been scaled down over the detention of the two soldiers, who were arrested after accidentally crossing a borderline between the two countries.

And mere hours later there was this:

Two Greek Soldiers Released From Turkish Jail Return Home

Two Greek soldiers freed after months in a Turkish prison returned to Greece by government jet early Wednesday after their unexpected release by a provincial court. Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said he phoned his Turkish counterpart to express his satisfaction with the soldiers’ release and invite him to visit Greece. “This is a great day for our motherland, the day of Our Lady, the day of Tinos in 1940,” Kammenos told reporters, referring to the Feast of the Dormation, which falls on August 15 and to the Italian torpedoing on a Greek warship on this day in 1940. “I hope that their release … will herald a new day in Greek-Turkish relations. We can live together peacefully, for the benefit of both our peoples.”

The soldiers [..] were met by Kammenos, the army chief of staff and an honor guard after their arrival at 3 a.m. at the airport in the northern city of Thessaloniki. “All I want to say is thank you,” Mitretodis told reporters. The men were arrested on March 1 for illegally entering Turkey after crossing the heavily militarized land border. Greece strongly protested their long detention in the western town of Edirne, arguing that they had strayed across during a patrol of a trail of suspected illegal immigration amid poor visibility due to bad weather.

[..] The men’s arrest had considerably strained Greek-Turkish relations. Kammenos had claimed that they were being held “hostage” by Turkey, which is trying to secure the extradition of eight Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece after the 2016 failed military coup in Turkey. Ankara accuses its servicemen of involvement in the coup, but Greek courts have refused to extradite them, arguing they would not get a fair trial in Turkey and their lives would be in danger there.

Athens got a phone call from Ankara, probably to Kammenos, not Tsipras, that said: you come get them. Whether that call was before or after the court decision we’ll probably never know. A bit of a shame, because it could tell us a lot of where the decisions are made in Turkey. Then again, we do have an idea. A mere provincial court that could make decisions that go completely against what Erdogan desires? What are the odds? But stick around.

Here’s what’s interesting about this: the two soldiers, who had been in detention for almost half a year, were released by a provincial court, and got back home on a joint Turkish/Greek national holiday. What’s not to like?

But then this: a few hours after they arrive home on PM Tsipras’ own government jet at 3pm, another Turkish court decides that an appeal for American pastor Brunson to be released, is denied. Brunson is the guy Trump wants freed. John Bolton has said there’ll be no more talks until that is done. But if one court takes a decision that at least on the face of it goes against supreme ruler Erdogan’s demands, and another decides differently, Erdogan can claim the pastor’s fate is out of his hands: it’s the court system that decides.

That victory over Trump, concerning not freeing the pastor, is apparently worth more to him than the defeat of not exchanging the soldiers for the 8 Turkish servicemen who have gotten asylum in Greece. Something Erdogan is allegedly very angry about, because he accuses them of being party to the 2016 ‘coup’. He’s trying to play chess with Trump. We can discuss how good of an idea that is. Here’s AFP:

Turkey Court Rejects New Appeal To Free Detained US Pastor

A Turkish court on Wednesday rejected a new appeal to free US pastor Andrew Brunson, whose detention has sparked a major row between Turkey and the United States, local media reported. The court in the western city of Izmir ruled that Brunson, who faces 35 years in jail over terror and espionage charges, will remain under house arrest, the state television TRT reported. Brunson’s jail term had been converted to house detention for health reasons.

His detention has soured relations with Washington, with US President Donald Trump doubling aluminium and steel tariffs for Turkey in punitive actions against Ankara’s refusal to release Brunson. The crisis has sent the Turkish currency into free fall since Friday. “The president has a great deal of frustration (about) the pastor not being released,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Tuesday. The statement came after US embassy charge d’affaires Jeffrey Hovenier visited Brunson in Izmir.

Brunson’s lawyer Cem Halavurt told AFP that a higher court would also discuss his appeal for Brunson’s release. Turkey’s ambassador to Washington Serdar Kilic on Monday held private talks with US National Security Advisor John Bolton in a meeting to discuss the pastor’s status.

And then Reuters has this just now:

Erdogan Spokesman Says Problems With US Will Be Resolved

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said on Wednesday he expected problems with the United States, which helped drive the lira to record lows, to be resolved but Washington must stop trying to influence Turkey’s judiciary. Ibrahim Kalin also told a news conference that Turkey would exercise its rights if the U.S. does not deliver F-35 jets to Ankara. The lira, which has rallied after hitting a record low of 7.24 to the dollar, would continue to recover, he said.

A masterstroke? Did Erdogan just succeed in making everyone, including Trump, believe the Turkish judiciary system is impartial, and he’s not the one keeping Brunson from leaving the country?

Sure looks like he tried. “Sorry, Mr. Trump, it’s out of my hands... A judge let the Greek soldiers go, and I didn’t want that either..”

Problem is, everyone knows Erdogan fired half the judiciary system and 90% or so of the press, accusing them of being part of the same coup plot as Gülen and the pastor Brunson. It’s almost amusing. Almost, because innocent people’s lives are being played out on some primitive chess board and sacrificed against dreams of ever more power. Only a pawn in their game.

The lira is recovering a little this week. Got to wonder how long that will last, and what it’s cost Turkey. To be continued...